The Green Hornet Strikes Again
An Overview of the Serial
by Raymond William Stedman
THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN
Written by: George Plympton, Basil Dickey, Sherman Lowe
Directed by: Ford Beebe, John Rawlins, Jacques Jaccard (dialogue)
Cinematography: Jerome Ash
BRITT REID/THE GREEN HORNET - WARREN HULL
KATO - KEYE LUKE
CROGAN - PIERRE WATKIN
LENORE CASE - ANNE NAGEL
AXFORD - WADE BOTELER
Supporting Cast: Eddie Acuff as Lowry, James Seay as Bordine,
Arthur Loft as Tauer, Joe A. Devlin as Dolan, William Hall as Don DeLuca, Dorothy Lovett as Frances Grayson and Stella Merja, Jay Michael as Foranti, Charles Miller as G. K. Otterson, Jeanne Kelly/Brooks as Gloria Manning, Irving Mitchell as Breedon, William Forrest as Harper, Eddie Dunn as Foley, Montague Shaw as Weaver
THE STORY: While Britt Reid is enjoying a vacation in Hawaii,
Crogan, secret chief of the underworld, is running unchecked. Reid and Kato head back for the mainland on the S.S. Paradise, survive a maritime disaster,and soon are destroying Crogan's rackets one by one.
In 1939, when the Green Hornet was at his peak of radio popularity, Universal released a film version of his exploits, in serial form. This chapter play closely reflected its popular, if implausible, airwaves counterpart. The movie serial used the same principal characters, as well as the much-talked-about Hornet musical signature and gadgetry (from gas gun to buzzing super car). Transferred too was the familiar voice of Al Hodge, the radio Green Hornet, which was heard when crusading publisher Britt Reid spoke from behind the Hornet mask. The movie serial even resembled the radio one by having Reid and Kato take on one racket at a time, with only the thinnest unifying link in the form of an overall racket boss. (For this episodic approach the movie received criticism from some quarters, though not from younger viewers, who were too fascinated by the combination of sound, speed, and gimmickry to worry about narrative progression.) To play Britt Reid, Universal hired Gordon Jones, a husky actor generally assigned to roles bordering on buffoonery, but nonetheless quite effective as a fighting journalist doubling as a masked avenger.
Nods of approval from audiences, and an okay from Green Hornet headquarters -- which didn't like some of the things Republic had done to the Lone Ranger (Britt Reid's great uncle) -- resulted in The Green Hornet Strikes Again.
It was released in late September, 1940, less than a year after the debut of the first Hornet chapter play. Although three of the principal actors continued in their roles, Universal, instead of calling on Gordon Jones to play the lead again, gave the part to Warren Hull, one of Columbia's serial heroes, associated particularly with the
Spider. Hull had no difficulty making the transfer, but the Hornet sequel -- once Reid and Kato were back on the mainland -- slipped into the plot situations of its more intense predecessor. Moreover, many of the shots, such as those of the Black Beauty exiting its hideaway or racing through town, were recycled from a serial that many viewers had been watching late chapters of only months earlier. For those who had thrilled to The Green Hornet, the second serial was often a case of been-there-done-that. Whatever the reason, the strikes didn't have quite the sting they had the first time around.
Independent of comparisons, however,The Green Hornet Strikes Again stands as a rather entertaining serial. Even those who prefer the Gordon Jones Hornet, can recognize the strengths of Hull's performance, although the actor, about nine years older than Jones, was, perhaps, better suited to the sophisticated heroes of his other serials -- men one would expect to see relaxing in Hawaii -- than to the tough young publisher-son of Dan Reid. Hull is, nonetheless, a believable hero, albeit one in a less intense undertaking than the first Hornet outing. The Green Hornet Strikes Again in some ways resembles the early detective series of television, with their interludes of character interplay and largely unrelated cases.
As to the other players, dependable Pierre Watkin, in his customary three-piece suits, portrays a cold,though not particularly colorful, villain. Crogan sits behind a desk in a stylish office, letting his gaggle of hoodlums (several played by actors who had performed similar duties in The Green Hornet) carry the action. The equally office-bound Anne Nagel, as Reid's secretary, is surrounded by nicer people. It is a delight to see her add a special touch to each dialogue exchange. Eddie Acuff, not seen in the first serial, fits in well as star reporter Lowry, while Wade Boteler is again an amusing blusterer in the role of Reid's bodyguard, Michael Axford. Hull, Boteler, Nagel, and Acuff form an excellent Sentinel office foursome, the working rapport of the actors being quite evident. Some credit for the quartet's effectiveness should, perhaps, go to dialogue director Jacques Jaccard, who had helmed some major serials during the early silent era. Kato (Keye Luke), is again a trusty Johnny-on-the-spot, though he is not given the opportunity to display the acumen for technology his character brought to the prior serial. The Reid houseboy and chauffeur, who had stoutly proclaimed that he was Korean in The Green Hornet, says nothing about his heritage here. Kato, however, is described by a crook as "that oriental." (Whether Kato was ever called Japanese in the radio version, and whether he was converted into a Filipino before or after Pearl Harbor, are matters of eternal controversy.*) Attractive Dorothy Lovett has a double role as an aluminum heiress and the brassy actress hired to replace her. James Seay is Crogan's slimy field operator, Bordine. Arthur Loft is principal henchman. Familiar serial performers seen unbilled in minor roles include Roy Barcroft, who has one line as a police officer, and burly Harry Cording, playing a construction boss. Toward the end of the chapter play, Jay Michael, of the WXYZ radio adventure stable, pops up as a menace with a purring voice.
Musical backgrounds are largely classical, ranging from the familiar "Flight of
the Bumblebee" theme to "The Storm" segment of the overture to William Tell. The latter is the music of choice for episode-closing sequences -- a great number of them being explosions that do not seem to ruffle the hero any more than the stock-shot sinking of the S. S. Paradise. The biting delivery of Al Hodge, by the way, is absent from this version, Hull himself doing the voice that filters through the mask.
Some minor notes: The bedroom chest that conceals the passageway to the Black Beauty swings out from the left. In The Green Hornet it had swung out from the right. And Hull is doubled in all the over-the-shoulder shots that show Reid at his desk, probably a means of freeing Hull for other shooting.
With this role Warren Hull, who should have been promoted from the B-picture ranks but was not, achieved
a kind of historical footnote status, having portrayed three noted crimefighters--the Spider (from pulp fiction), Mandrake the Magician (from the comics), and the Green Hornet (from radio). After his career in film making, which ended not long after this serial, Hull enjoyed a more profitable one in radio and television interview and quiz shows.
*A 1990s comic book series (published by NOW Comics) offered an ex post facto explanation of why the original Kato was sometimes called Filipino (or Korean, in the first movie serial): his friend Britt lied about Kato's Japanese heritage to save him a trip to an American internment camp.
Copyright ©1998 by Raymond William Stedman